Life comes full circle with cyclical Ramadan.
As Muslims follow the lunar calendar, Ramadan starts around 10 days earlier every year. It may sound weird how this monthlong holiday does not have a fixed date in our conventional Gregorian calendar, but I find it so beautiful. Let me tell you why.
A cyclical Ramadan brings back memories and provides an anchor to life events. I remember being in school in Dubai in the late 1980s taking my finals during a scorching summer Ramadan. Fast forward 30-odd years and life comes full circle, as my high school sophomore here in Elgin is preparing for his finals next week.
The days are long and hot, but I am glad that when my children started fasting when they were around 10 years old, Ramadan came during the summer vacation. This meant they did not have to run a mile during gym or be tempted at lunch. They could also stay up later at night and join us at the mosque and sleep in during the day. Now that they are teenagers and fasting is mandatory, they have it down pat.
Add the fact that intermittent fasting is trending in health magazines and it ranks higher on the socially coolness factor as well.
A cyclical Ramadan lets us enjoy both the long days and the long nights. As Muslims do not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset for 30 days, the duration of the fast varies with the season.
When the days are long in the summer, it does get harder to go without even drinking water for around 16 hours every day, but it makes us appreciate our blessings and become more empathetic toward those who do not have food on a regular basis.
When Ramadan comes in the winter, the days are so short, that it just feels like we had lunch a little later than usual.
That worked out perfectly for me when I fasted in the winter with an infant for the first time. The next time Ramadan comes during the snowy months -- in another 15 years or so -- I might just be a grandmother of an infant.
A cyclical Ramadan lets us enjoy different foods according to the season. When we return from night prayers at the mosque, our family tradition can range from grabbing some steaming hot chocolate to frozen mango lemonade from a drive-through window. Even though most Muslims break their fast with dates, the food to follow varies with the season, such as chilled watermelon during the summer fasts versus piping hot lentil soup during the winter days.
A cyclical Ramadan provides for a variety in decorating, too. Ramadan doesn't come with a traditional holiday color palette like the red and green of Christmas or the blue and silver of Hanukkah. However, second-generation Muslim Americans are making it a point to decorate for Ramadan primarily to make the holiday period festive for their children who see the hoopla at the mall around December.
This year, Party City and Crate and Barrel Kids sold out of their inaugural Ramadan dcor lines, and I am sure many more retailers will follow suit next year. When I first started decorating for Ramadan, it was fall and I chose brown pine cones and burnt orange leaves for my little Ramadan nook by the staircase. Since then, each year we do something a little different. I don't decorate every corner of the house, but our nook has become synonymous with the holiday.
This year we have a rustic shabby chic theme with a lot of green to celebrate spring, which took forever to arrive in Chicagoland.
A cyclical Ramadan can provide relief to people with some ailments. If seasonal allergies hit them hard, or if there are particular times of the year when their arthritis or asthma may be at their worst, they can find solace in the fact that Ramadan will come at a slightly different time next year and the year after that.
A cyclical Ramadan brings me closer to God, which is the main reason for fasting. It makes me more cognizant of life, as I cannot become mechanical about rituals, even with prayer timings as they vary with the season. Muslims pray five times a day, and depending on whether it is December or June, the last prayer for the day could be at 6 p.m. or 10 p.m.
A cyclical Ramadan gives hope to those who work in seasonal professions. For instance, if Ramadan always came in April, tax accountants would never be able to fully enjoy the spiritual side of this month.
A cyclical Ramadan reminds me that our life has seasons, too. Some days, weeks and months are cold and dreary, but we should try to remember that spring will come. It might not come as quickly as we want it to, but as we read in the Quran, with every difficulty, there is ease.
So while it might seem a tad odd to an onlooker, I love how Ramadan comes 10 days earlier each year and I would not have it any other way.
* Kiran Ansari, of Elgin, is a writer and entrepreneur. She has been living in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago with her family for the past 19 years.